From the thousands of women whose babies he delivered, to the medical students he mentored for years, to the person who spent an hour one time fixing a chair in his office, Dr. Fredric Frigoletto Jr. could form a bond with anyone.
“People instantly really cared for my dad because as academic and career-driven as he was, his interpersonal relationships were probably the richest part of his life,” his daughter Susan of Wellesley said. “He was definitely a people person.”
An acclaimed obstetrician and gynecologist, Dr. Frigoletto “thought it was a joy and privilege to be involved in an area of medicine where you were bringing such joy into families’ lives,” she added.
His friendly demeanor and steadfast work ethic made him a sought-after physician in maternal and fetal medicine, notably in his 1993 move from Brigham and Women’s Hospital to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he led a competing maternity service.
Dr. Frigoletto, former chief of Mass. General’s obstetrics division, died Oct. 31 in the hospital where he worked from complications of a septic infection. He was 83 and had lived in Wellesley for 47 years.
In 1993, he was one of six doctors who left the obstetrical department at Brigham and Women’s after a management reshuffling. The move meant he went from being head of obstetrics at Brigham and Women’s to becoming the chief of obstetrics at Mass. General, a division he shaped with his gentle touch and warm heart, colleagues said.
At the time, Dr. Frigoletto was low-key about his decision. “I expect I will be in the baby business at one place or another,” he told the Globe in December 1993 as he left Brigham and Women’s, and he said his new home would probably be Mass. General.
Dr. Isaac Schiff, who had been chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Mass. General prior to Dr. Frigoletto’s arrival, said it had been his dream to get Dr. Frigoletto to be Mass. General’s first stand-alone obstetrics chief. He was simply born for the job, Schiff said.
“In many ways, he was bigger than life,” Schiff said. “When he was at a meeting, he was a natural born leader. People inevitably looked to him for his leadership, for his personality. He was very charming.”
The older of two children, Fredric D. Frigoletto Jr. was born in Fitchburg to Dr. Fredric Frigoletto Sr. and the former Alba Merlino.
He graduated from Lawrence Academy in 1950 and went to Brown University, from which he received a bachelor’s degree in 1954. He received a master’s from Boston University in 1955 and served in the Army before Boston University School of Medicine, graduating in 1962. Dr. Frigoletto served his residency at Boston Lying-in Hospital and Boston City Hospital, where he met Martha McKay. They married in 1966 and moved to Wellesley a few years later.
After his residency, Dr. Frigoletto worked at the Boston Hospital for Women, which would become part of Brigham and Women’s. According to a tribute on the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine website, he was medical director for ambulatory services and director of educational services before serving as director of obstetrics from 1974 to 1980. Dr. Frigoletto was chief of maternal-fetal medicine until 1989 and then was vice chairman and medical director of obstetrics at Brigham and Women’s.
In the mid-1990s, Dr. Frigoletto was president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which on its website praised him for enhancing the organization’s Internet presence, expanding its partnerships with other groups, and advocating for distributing a wide range of educational materials, some of which were translated for the first time into languages other than English. He also helped direct development of the organization’s first edition of “Guidelines for Women’s Health Care.”
As a mentor, Dr. Frigoletto taught innovative approaches to generations of medical students.
“When you wanted to go into OB-GYN, Fred was the guy you talked to,” said Dr. Jeffrey Ecker, who is chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Mass. General and studied under Dr. Frigoletto at Harvard Medical School. “He taught all of us to be skeptical of conventional wisdom unless you could prove it. Just because things were done a certain way didn’t mean they had to or should be.”
Ecker said Dr. Frigoletto taught him the art of patient-focused care. For the last several years, Dr. Frigoletto had served as a senior administrator, offering guidance at faculty meetings and bringing forward new perspectives whenever he could.
“Fred’s patients adored him,” said Ecker, who added that “they felt he was present in caring for them all the time. He made sure that I, and all of us, kept the patients front and center.”
About 13 years ago, Dr. Frigoletto became a patient at Mass. General himself, because of a chronic coronary artery blockage that led to early congestive heart failure, he wrote in an article for Mass General Magazine.
After barely surviving a bypass surgery, he received a heart transplant, giving him what his family described as a new lease on life.
“As a patient, I saw a different side of medicine. For five months, my world was the MGH’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit,” Dr. Frigoletto wrote. “Many of my fellow patients came and left — sometimes going home, sometimes dying surrounded by loved ones. There was the knowledge that I, too could die at any time.”
The transplant was “a really risky route to take,” his daughter Susan said.
“There were a lot of things that could go wrong along the way,” she added. “In every way, shape, and form we feel lucky and blessed that he came out of that very serious hospitalization, walked out on his own two feet.”
While Dr. Frigoletto was hospitalized, Susan gave birth in Mass. General’s obstetrics wing. She named her daughter, who is now 13, Fredrica in honor of Dr. Frigoletto.
“All of us are just so thankful that we had 13 years. It was completely a blessing,” Susan said. “We were so thankful every day of the 13 years that my dad was alive.”
A service has been held for Dr. Frigoletto, who in addition to his wife and daughter leaves another daughter, Laurie of Wellesley; a brother, Dr. Robert Frigoletto, of Lancaster; and seven grandchildren.
Dr. Frigoletto left a legacy at Mass. General that many colleagues say they’ll continue to admire and live by. His leadership style and his passion for patients forged the way for the future of obstetrics at the hospital, Schiff said.
“He didn’t lead by fear,” Schiff said. “He led by the fact that he always had intelligent things to say, and he had that natural skill.”
Felicia Gans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.